Annnnnnd we’re back ….
It was a short off-season for Guelph Storm fans, which was a good thing.
They finished a remarkable OHL playoff run with a championship and played well, just not well enough, at the Memorial Cup.
But that’s all history now. Time to look forward, in more ways than one.
Now the ice is in, heights and weights measured, medicine balls thrown. No guys you have never heard of will be wearing Storm jerseys in three (count ‘em THREE) exhibition games this weekend.
Some of those names will become very familiar over the next few years. Some of them you will never see again after Labour Day.
A total of 56 players are on the training camp roster, roughly 26 already under contract, plus one too many overagers and one too many goaltenders.
Some players who have previously signed will not make this team.
Decisions to be made. Dreams to be fueled. Hopes to be crushed.
But most of all, the process of rebuilding a contender begins.
Fear not, this will not be a terrible season. There is still enough talent on this team to finish somewhere between fifth and eighth in the Western Conference.
Next year is likely the season things bottom out, a team that will be practically devoid of 19 year olds.
Guelph has a solid top two lines and a proven overage goaltener that should make them competitive most nights.
The weakness on this team is its young and inexperienced defence. After Owen Lalonde, you’re down to a very young group. Fedor Gordeev is at camp, but just to get some ice time before heading off on his pro career.
Understandably, several of the team’s top players won’t be here after the trade deadline.
Anthony Popovich appears the most likely goaltender to be dealt and Owen Lalonde, Cedric Ralph, Liam Hawel and Cam Hillis are also likely to draw plenty of interest from contending teams at various points between now and Jan. 10.
So what will be a pretty decent team the first half of the season might struggle to win much once the dust settles.
Fans seem to get this. A poll on the first story of training camp on GuelphToday asked readers where they thought the team would finish this season. Of 252 respondents, 61 per cent of them had Guelph finishing sixth, seventh or eighth in the conference. Five drunk guys said they would finish first.
Where that will be will likely depend on two things: how quickly some of the youngsters develop and how many and at what point those older assets are moved.
It will be a bumpy ride for the next couple of years, but Storm fans are used to it.
They’ve seen where the journey leads.